Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), has a difficult job. To argue otherwise is, at best, ignorant.
However, having a difficult job does not exclude someone from criticism, nor does it mean that it is unfair to expect better. Kizer seems to at least be willing to acknowledge, and even claims to welcome, that criticism. As he recently told Fighters.com:
"I welcome criticism," the chatty and chipper Kizer tells Fighters.com over the phone from his Las Vegas office. "None of us are above criticism. I welcome honest criticism - whether it is constructive or correct or not - as long as it's honest."
It's not that Kizer believes he's necessarily the correct target for such criticism, but he acknowledges that every armchair expert in the world is entitled to play the blame game - a tradition as old as sporting competition.
"Do I think that people over-criticize the refs? Yes, but that's part of the fun," he says.
"In every basketball game I've ever gone to, every time a foul is called, half the place is yelling about how bad the referee is. That's part of what you do as a fan. After fights, everyone agrees that the judges are horrible, but they disagree on everything else when it's close, which I find somewhat amusing."
The issue here is that it's not "part of the fun" when referees and judges do a bad job. And, for all the bragging about transparency that Kizer does, there's not a transparent process for what is done when a judge or ref does a bad job.
Last year, after Richard Abril was blatantly robbed in Nevada against Brandon Rios, I contacted Kizer and asked if he would be conducting an investigation into the judging or conducting an in-depth review, something that seemed only fair given that the decision was universally considered a travesty. I was simply told "Personally, I didn't see anything wrong with the judging." And he then went on to justify that it's completely legitimate for a fight to be scored 9-3 one way and 8-4 the other way, as though that doesn't speak to some sort of larger issue.
It was basically the same story when Timothy Bradley was given a ridiculous decision win over Manny Pacquiao a few months later, with Kizer simply telling media that there was no need for a review of the judging and that "Every fighter who loses a close fight looks at the judges...I think every judge should strive to get better."
UFC 155 had the MMA community upset with the NSAC again with plenty of bad judging and reffing to go around. And, again, nothing.
I talked about the issue using a sample case after that event:
Patricia Morse Jarman managed to turn in one of the worst scorecards of 2010 when she gave Beibut Shumenov a 117-111 win over Gabriel Campillo in January. She also has a history of awful scorecards. Campillo's camp demanded an investigation and went as far as to say she was "either blind or got paid off."
So what was Jarman's punishment? Oh, only working fights like Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard later that year, Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber, Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz, Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, working on the Pacquiao vs. Marquez IV undercard and one of the judges for Cotto vs. Mayweather.
It's not specific to the NSAC, obviously. But it's a problem that they're a major part of.
I've been chasing an issue with the Florida commission since the first Friday Night Fights card of the year ended with an awful hometown decision. But it's clear that a process is set up in most states to make appealing near impossible. You can fill out the forms but they have to decide that there is legal reason to conduct a review based on an incredibly narrow set of criteria.
I wanted to talk to Oklahoma's commission about some of the issues on last week's Strikeforce card -- such as the Noons vs. Couture scoring and the awful rewarding of a fighter who threw an illegal upkick by restarting the fight on the feet -- but they just ignored my calls and e-mails.
I'll be on the phone tomorrow trying to get someone at the New York State Athletic Commission to discuss the bad judging in the opener of the HBO boxing broadcast last night.
Will New York take any action? I don't know given that the only commission I've seen step up and actually do something in the face of bad judging was New Jersey (the best commission in America), who suspended the judges who managed to score Paul Williams vs. Erislandy Lara for Williams. Two of those judges have not worked again, one of them judged his first fights since the suspension last October, a layoff of 15 months.
But what happens is that Kizer and even an outlet like Fighters.com falls into this thing where they treat it like people who complain are "armchair experts." Acting as though a universally acknowledged bad decision, something that costs fighters considerable amounts of money either in win bonuses, value going forward or potential title opportunities, is something that it is unfair to expect action to be taken on is what these commissions want.
There is too much bad judging and too many blatant failures by refs to do their job correctly taking place under the watch of these commissions. The idea that once judges are "in" they're "in forever" has to go. It's something I've said a lot this year already, but I'm going to keep saying it until it sinks in...fans, media, promoters and fighters have to put the pressure on these commissions to actually do their job. It's one thing for them to talk about wanting to make the sports they oversee "safe and legitimate" but it's quite another to actually take the actions necessary to do that.